Chapter 4

While Blair rested, Jim made calls. He arranged for Taggert to be at the loft to accept delivery of the hospital bed Jim was renting. He located a private medical transport company to bring Blair home. Megan agreed to stock the shelves and refrigerator with the kinds of food and drink Blair could have – Linda, miracle worker that she was, had included a shopping list with the diet sheets. Simon volunteered to stop by a medical supply shop to pick up the rest, and Rafe and H offered to guard Blair for a couple hours while Jim did some shopping of his own for the large purchases he didn’t want to delegate. Simon had been trying unsuccessfully to track down Naomi, and when he stopped by the loft, Jim made another futile attempt, cursing the woman – what kind of mother didn’t even leave contact information for emergencies?

Blair didn’t wake while Jim ran errands, but that night, a few hours after Jim had finally dozed off on the uncomfortable cot, the Sentinel woke to heartrending moans and whimpers from Blair’s bed. Jim reached the bed just as Blair woke himself with a hoarse scream, "JIIIIIIM!"

"Shhhh, I got you, Chief, I got you," Jim murmured, holding Blair’s hand and stroking his cheeks, agonizing that he didn’t dare take Blair into his arms because of his injuries. His heart ached when he saw the tears flowing down his Guide’s cheeks. Even after all the times and all the ways that his Sentinel had failed him, Blair still cried out for Jim when he was afraid and hurting, and that knowledge tore at Jim’s soul.

The intercom crackled to life.

"Mr. Sandburg? Are you all right? Do you need anything?"

Jim reached over Blair and pushed the intercom button.

"Blair just had a nightmare," he said. "He’s all right, but could we maybe get him a cup of something hot, chicken broth or something?"

Brief pause.

"I’ll see what I can do," the tinny voice promised unenthusiastically.

Blair sniffled, trembling.

"That’s not all I need," he whispered miserably.

Jim knew before Blair mentioned it; the stench of urine and feces almost overwhelmed him. He realized that his sense of smell was spiking sharply; it took him a moment, but he got it dialled down with some difficulty.

"Don’t worry about it, Chief. When the nurse comes, we’ll get you cleaned up."

Blair flushed wretchedly.

"I’m sorry I woke you," he muttered.

"No, it’s okay," Jim insisted. "You know, I hate it that I can’t give you a hug right now."

Blair looked away.

"I thought – you didn’t want to touch me," he murmured almost inaudibly. "I mean, especially after those guys – you know."

"Oh, baby." Jim felt a sting of tears in his own eyes. "That’s not it. I just don’t want to hurt you any more than you already are, or maybe scare you because you aren’t ready to be touched. I’ve always touched you, haven’t I?"

"Not lately," Blair whispered.

Jim felt a pang of guilt like a knife through his heart.

"I’m so sorry, Chief, so fucking sorry," he said softly. "I was being an idiot, a complete and total idiot. I didn’t realize how much you meant to me. It’s so easy to take you for granted, baby, you’re always there for me, you give so much and ask for so damned little. I won’t do it again, I promise. Just chalk it up to, as Naomi would say, processing, okay?"

Blair was trembling, the vulnerability in his eyes so naked and raw that Jim almost wept.

"We’re – still friends?" he whispered.

"Blair, you have been, are, and always will be the best friend I’ve ever had," Jim said softly. "And a hell of a lot more than that, too. And if I’ve ever made you think otherwise, I was a fool and an asshole for doing it, okay?"

Blair nodded, his eyes full, and Jim prayed he wouldn’t start crying again, because then Jim would cry, and once that particular dam burst Jim wasn’t sure at all that he could stop. Thankfully, right on cue Nurse Parker arrived with a cup of bouillon. She cleaned Blair up and changed the pad under him with a crisp efficiency that shared none of Linda Riggs’ gentleness, but at least she had Blair clean, dry and resettled in record time. When she’d gone, Blair tasted the now-cold bouillon and grimaced.

"Yuck," he said, handing the cup to Jim. "Salt water with yellow food coloring."

"I can get you a cup of cocoa from the vending machine," Jim offered. "Also known as sugar water with brown food coloring."

Blair snorted, wiping his eyes with the back of his un-IV’d wrist.

"Thanks but no thanks. Maybe just some water?"

"Got it." Jim contemplated refilling the ice pitcher, but Blair was shivering, so he filled the cup with room-temperature water. "Cold, Chief?"

Blair nodded, sipping through the bent straw. Jim made sure Blair could hold the glass, then pulled the blanket off his cot, spreading it over his Guide. He sat down again, taking the cup when Blair was finished, then holding Blair’s hand again.

"Bad dream, huh?" he said softly. "Was it about . . . what happened?"

"What else?" Blair said flatly.

And he screams for me to rescue him, and I’m not there. I’m not there for him. I’m not there to rescue him while four men beat and rape him. I should have been there. It’s all my fault.

"I should have been there," Jim whispered. "I’m so sorry, Chief. So damned sorry."

Blair turned startled eyes to him.

"You don’t think – oh, God, Jim, none of this was your fault," he said. "I hope you don’t think it was – but you do, don’t you?" he added softly.

"I should have been there," Jim repeated.

"Jim, I didn’t even ask you to come with me," Blair said intensely. "There wouldn’t have been any use. I was sorting through big piles of academic papers, journals and books. If I’d needed any help, which I didn’t, Jesse would have been the only person who could have done me any good. There wasn’t a damned thing you could have done but sit around bored out of your mind. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s mine – "

"No, Chief – " Jim protested immediately.

" – because when I got done early, I should have called you," Blair insisted. "Then even if you couldn’t come and get me right away, I could have just waited there for you with my coffee and my books and been perfectly safe. So don’t blame yourself. There’s no need."

Jim wasn’t convinced, but he had no intention of arguing with his exhausted Guide, so he nodded and simply sat there, holding Blair’s hand and stroking his hair, until the younger man fell asleep again. As soon as Blair was soundly asleep, Jim quietly moved his cot alongside Blair’s bed and positioned himself so he could curl his arm up awkwardly to keep Blair’s hand in his. But it was a long time before he slept.

The following morning, while Blair was still sleeping the sleep of the well-drugged, Linda Riggs stopped by and pulled Jim out into the hall, smiling. To Jim’s surprise she wasn’t wearing her uniform; she looked like a different person in jeans and a sweatshirt.

"They’re cutting Blair loose today, right on schedule," she said. "Now, Dr. Atherton’s going to give you a lot of instructions and prescriptions and stuff, and he’s going to go through it all real fast, because I happen to know he’s on a tight schedule today, so I thought I’d come in a bit early and go through it with you myself instead of leaving you to Parker, who, forgive me for saying it, is an asshole, and who won’t be any nicer at the end of a 12-hour shift."

"God, you’re fantastic," Jim said gratefully.

"Yeah, but I can’t cook," she laughed. She handed Jim several sheets of paper stapled together. "Here’s Blair’s prescriptions – I know, quite a packet. These are painkillers, muscle relaxants, antibiotics, this is a sleeping pill, this is a stool softener because of his stitches. Because of the bruising to his organs it’s going to be a few days yet before he has much control over his bowels and his bladder. Buy him some Depends, trust me, he’ll thank you and your washing machine will thank you. This is an antibiotic ointment, but it’s also got a slight numbing agent to help with itching, and it’ll make him heal up a whole hell of a lot faster. It needs to go up inside pretty damned far, as far as you can reach. Personally I hope he Bobbittized that bastard entirely."

Jim nodded grimly.

"Anyway, use the salve morning and night and every time he has a bowel movement. Use a bedpan and a hand urinal when he gets enough notice. Don’t use toilet paper, use baby wipes, the non-alcohol kind with Vitamin E or aloe. Don’t give him anything else over-the-counter, you look smart enough to know that – "

"Um, he likes to drink these herbal teas," Jim said. "Are those okay?"

Linda nodded.

"Any non-caffeinated tea with no funky effects is fine," she said. "No coffee or tea otherwise, no alcohol – very important – and nothing acidic like carbonated drinks and citrus juices. His diet restrictions are on the next page, here. By the way, he’ll probably be able to go in to the dentist in about two weeks, if you want to schedule an appointment to get those teeth capped.

"I know it sounds harsh, but get him up and moving as soon as you can push him into it," Linda continued. "He should be sitting upright for short periods by tomorrow, standing briefly – with help – day after, and walking short distances with help the day after that. Getting him upright will help prevent pneumonia, and he’s got a respiratory exerciser to use too. Use it because his instinct will be to breathe shallowly with those ribs.

"In the hospital they’d have him seeing a physical therapist in a couple of days, but they wouldn’t be doing anything you can’t do instead – gentle limbering exercises to keep him from stiffening up, massage, and heat and cold on any areas where he’s having specific pain. I’ve enclosed a booklet of exercises you should do with him, starting let’s say day after tomorrow.

"The ribs and the tailbone are the two things not to rush. Don’t let him try to get up by himself or push himself upright with his arms; make him raise the bed instead, and you help him in or out of it. Only bed baths until he can walk into the bathroom himself; then it’ll have to be a shower sitting on a stool or something because of the stitches. Doctor will probably let him start tub baths in a week, but he’ll be on restrictions with his arms for a lot longer, given the internal swelling and so on, so don’t let him try to bathe himself. Dr. Atherton will want to recheck him in a week, and in the meantime, of course, no stairs, no bending, no lifting, nothing. He’ll probably sleep most of the time anyway on those painkillers. Don’t let him be brave and skip them or you’ll both be sorry, trust me here. Any questions?"

Jim’s head was spinning as the sheer magnitude of what he was going to attempt hit him. Linda must have seen the consternation on his face, because she patted his arm reassuringly.

"You’ll do just fine," she said kindly. She pulled a card out of her pocket and handed it to him. "Top number’s my pager. Call me if you have any questions, anytime, I don’t mind. The second number on there is a sweet lady who does the visiting nurse thing. Her name’s Kerri McDermott. Do yourself a favor, have her come in this afternoon. She’ll help you get set up and show you how to do anything you’re not sure about, teach you how to give a proper massage if you don’t know already, and she’s a hell of a cook, too. The fact that she’s my lifepartner in no way prejudices me in her favor, of course. Then if you’re smart, have her in every day, even if it’s just an hour or so, to fix heat-up meals and give you a little time to yourself. You won’t believe the difference it’ll make. She’s free this afternoon, I asked. The number on the back is an excellent counselor who specializes in men who have been raped; he runs a support group through the Rape Crisis Center. Call him today, Jim. In addition to the counseling, Blair will probably qualify for some medical reimbursement from the local victim assistance funds, and he can tell you about that."

Jim took the card.

"Thank you," he said gratefully. "You’ve been so wonderful."

Linda grinned broadly.

"Yeah, well, I like you two," she said. "Don’t be surprised if I check in to see how Blair’s doing and how the case is coming. And if my testimony’s any help, either as his nurse or as a witness to his recorded statement, you got me, okay?"

"Thank you so much," Jim said, meaning it. Now he was angry at himself for that one brief flash of jealousy.

"Thank me by taking good care of him," Linda said firmly. "And hopefully by never showing your faces in my ward again."

"Amen," Jim said prayerfully.

Dr. Atherton released Blair after a final examination not long afterward. As Linda had predicted, he passed on his instructions at auctioneer speed but did make sure Jim understood them. Blair listened red-faced, unable to meet Jim’s eyes. While they waited for the private ambulance company, Blair finally spoke, looking away.

"Jim, man, are you sure this is a good idea?" he said in a low voice. "I mean, this isn’t going to be any fun for either of us, and pretty damned embarrassing, too. I really hate to do this to you."

"Chief, get it through your thick head," Jim said gently. "I want to take care of you. We’re going to get through this, Chief, and I’m going to be there for every minute of it. Now grit your teeth, they’re coming down the hall and this probably isn’t going to feel any too good when they move you."

To Jim’s gratitude, Linda came through one more time, giving Blair a final injection of painkillers and making the transport team wait for the injection to take effect before they moved him. Thus it was that Blair returned to the loft soundly asleep, unable to see and appreciate all the arrangements Jim had made while he was gone.

Jim had popped home briefly the night before to rearrange Blair’s room to accommodate the electric bed and to squish a small cot in beside it. The large TV wouldn’t possibly fit on top of Blair’s dresser, so he’d gone out and bought a smaller one, and run a speaker connection from the stereo into the bedroom too. There were handrails to be installed on the toilet and in the tub and a padded seat for the toilet, but those could wait, as could the rented wheelchair tucked in a corner for outdoor expeditions. Jim had changed the living room furniture that first night while Rafe and H had guarded Blair, trading his rather utilitarian sofa and chair for a decadently comfortable new couch, extra wide for comfortable lounging, and a recliner with all the bells and whistles including massage and heat, soft enough to comfortably cradle an aching body; Simon had stayed at the apartment to accept delivery of the furniture and the thick eggshell foam padding for the bed, and had the old stuff stored. The flowers, balloons, stuffed toys and other gifts which had flooded Blair’s room in the hospital entirely overflowed his little cubbyhole of a room, so Jim had spread the stuff out over the loft. He’d thought about simply moving Blair upstairs, but in the end had decided against it. Blair wouldn’t be able to do stairs for a long time, and down here he was much more convenient to the bathroom and living room when he was ready to walk.

Since Blair was still asleep, Jim called Kerri McDermott and arranged for her to come over that day; then he called the counselor whose number Linda had given him. Gerard Worth sounded competent and sympathetic, and took down Jim’s address, promising to send an information packet over by courier the next day. Then Jim heard Blair stirring restlessly, and he hurried back to the small bedroom, sitting beside the bed and stroking Blair’s hair. Blair settled immediately, and Jim managed a shallow nap on his cot.

Blair had been home for almost six hours before he woke, groggy and dull-eyed.

"Oh, man," he groaned. "Are we there yet?"

"We sure are, Chief," Jim chuckled. "You’re home, buddy."

Blair opened his eyes a little wider and gazed around, astonished.

"Good god, Jim, what the hell did you – " Then his eyes lit on the cot beside the bed, flickered back up to Jim.

"Chief, I wouldn’t sleep upstairs, worrying about you," Jim said gently. "I’m better off right here where I know you’re okay."

Blair’s eyes grew distant.

"I’m not okay," he mumbled, turning his head away.

Again Jim felt that pang.

"I know, Chief," he said softly. "And I know that hospital beds and medicines and bandages can’t fix everything that’s hurt. And I know there’s only so much I can do to help. But, Chief, whatever you need, if it’s doable, I’ll do it. If it’s getable, I’ll get it. Just ask."

"Can you make me forget?" Blair asked, almost inaudibly.

"No." Jim sat down on the edge of the bed, taking Blair’s hand. "No, Chief, I can’t make you forget. I can’t turn back time to keep it from happening, either. I wish to God I could. I wish to God it had been me instead of you."

Blair’s eyes flickered up to his again, stunned, and involuntarily his fingers tightened against Jim’s.

"Don’t ever wish that, Jim," he said softly, intensely. "Never. I don’t, and I haven’t, not for one second, not while it was happening and not since and I never will."

He hesitated.

"Is that what this is, Jim?" Blair said, waving one hand slightly at the room. "Is this all a guilt thing for you, that somehow you weren’t omniscient and omnipotent enough to protect me? Because that’s, like, such a crock of shit, Jim. Okay, fine, you were late. I was late too. There’s nothing you could have done, Jim. You were there for me afterwards, and you’ve got no idea what that means to me, but god damn it, Jim, I do not need a guilt trip from you now."

"It’s not a guilt trip." Jim couldn’t meet Blair’s eyes; he picked restlessly at the covers. "I think . . . it’s a love trip."

Blair went utterly still for a long moment. Jim didn’t dare look up. At last a bark of bitter laughter startled Jim into glancing at Blair again.

"Oh, man," Blair said bitterly. "Of all the things I fucking did not need. After nearly four years of unrequited love, after God alone knows how many near-death experiences, abductions, beatings, shootings, wrecks, crashes and psychos, now you decide to love me back, now when I’m ruined and used and dirty – " The bitter laugh turned into a choking sob, and Blair wept, deep tearing sobs that must have hurt tremendously.

Appalled, Jim tried to think of some way to hold Blair’s poor hurting body and settled on sliding into the bed beside him, tenderly cradling the jerking head against his shoulder.

"Shhhh, Chief, Blair, shhhh," Jim said helplessly, aware that tears were trickling hotly down his own cheeks. "I’m sorry, I’m sorry if you don’t want me to love you now. I can’t help it. I’ve loved you before now, I don’t know, maybe always, I was just afraid. You’re not ruined or dirty, baby, or any of those things you said. You’re hurt, yeah, and you’re hurting inside, but you’ll heal, I promise you, baby, you’ll heal. And if it takes six months or six years or sixty years – assuming this dense, stupid, hung-up old cop is still kicking sixty years from now – I’ll be right here with you, however you want me, and I’ll be loving you just as much as I do now."

"I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you," Blair sobbed against Jim’s shoulder. "But it hurts, I hurt so much, nothing ever hurt like this."

"I know, baby, I know," Jim said, stroking Blair’s hair. "Look, I know there isn’t much I can do, but – " He glanced at the clock. "No wonder you’re blue. It’s past time for your meds, and that’ll help some, at least, okay?"

Blair sniffled, grimacing.

"God, I feel so dirty."

"I told you, baby, it’s not – "

"No, man, I mean dirty," Blair said, sniffling again. "As in unwashed. Body odor. Gunky hair."

"Well, hang on a little longer," Jim said. "I called Linda’s partner Kerri, and she should be here any – " A knock on the door startled the hell out of him; usually he heard visitors as they walked up the stairs. "That’s probably her now."

Jim trotted through the living room and opened the door; for a moment, seeing no one, he was puzzled. Then he glanced downward and met a merry pair of green eyes almost a foot below his own. Unlike Linda, who was tall, dark and willowy, Kerri was tiny, almost elfin, slender, with bright red hair and creamy skin liberally sprinkled with freckles and dancing, mischeivous eyes that promised a wicked wit. She was carrying a grocery bag and a tote bag, both of which Jim took from her.

"And you’d be Detective Ellison," she chuckled, holding out a remarkably tiny hand. She had a pronounced Scottish brogue. "Linda said you were a veritable brick wall of a handsome hunk."

Jim chuckled and took the hand despite the bags, liking Kerri’s forthright manner immediately.

"Well, I won’t say what she told me about you, Ms. McDermott," he said. "I believe I’ll just let you worry."

"Well, let’s dispense immediately with the fuss," Kerri said, grinning. "Come on, Jim, I want to meet Blair."

"Um – " Jim hesitated. "Have you read Blair’s medical file, Kerri?"

Kerri gave him a sidelong glance.

"Now, not having a medical authorization from Blair, that would be illegal, now, wouldn’t it?" she said innocently. "So let’s just say that I tortured the pertinent info out of my mate, or that I’m bloody psychic, and leave it at that, eh?"

Jim chuckled.

"I can live with that," he said. "Come on in."

When Kerri walked into the bedroom, she gave it a quick scan, not flinching from Blair’s appearance. His bruises were even more spectacular now than they’d been right after the assault.

"Hello, Blair," she said, sitting down on Jim’s cot and making no attempt to shake hands with Blair. "I’m Kerri McDermott, Linda’s lifepartner, and if so be I don’t scare the two of you off today, I’m going to come in now and again to give Jim a hand, ‘cause I’ll bet most of the time you’re more’n a handful, hey?"

Blair chuckled slightly.

"Can’t deny that," he said.

"Well, I think between the two of us, we can manage you," Kerri chuckled. "Now, lads, unless you’ve got some other thought, what I figured I’d do today is just help Jim here learn how to take care of all the things he’ll need to do for you, Blair, and go over your diet and meds with him too. But first off, Blair, I can smell that you don’t need a change right now. When’s the last time you urinated and moved your bowels?"

Blair turned crimson; even Jim blushed at Kerri’s matter-of-fact tone.

"Um – I urinated right before I left the hospital," Blair mumbled. "The other was – uh – early this morning."

"You checked out about nine, right?" Kerri confirmed, glancing at Jim. She wrinkled her brow. "Okay. Blair, you need to force more liquids. I know it probably hurts like the devil to go, but you need to keep your kidneys and bladder and bowels flushed, okay? Jim, you see that he drinks eight glasses of water and clear juices a day. And on his meds he’s due for a bowel movement, too, so haul out the bedpan and I’ll show you the easiest way to do this."

Jim brought out the bedpan and the portable urinal, and Kerri nonchalantly pulled back the covers, chuckling at Blair’s blush.

"Don’t be embarrassed," she said. "Even if you didn’t look like you’d been hit by a truck, luv, and I’m sure you’re a lovely sight when you’re all in one piece, I bend towards the type with tits. And I don’t mean those granite mountains," she grinned, nodding at Jim.

Blair plucked at his hospital gown.

"Hey, while we’re doing this, can I maybe put on some pajamas?" he asked wistfully.

Kerri shook her head briskly.

"Blair, honey, the less clothing Jim has to deal with when he works with you, the better. Ideally I’d just put you in a big, soft cotton t-shirt and the Depends and some socks, make it that much easier to change you, and pile up the blankets if you’re cold."

"I’ll settle for a t-shirt," Blair said quickly. He blushed. "It’s just – the way this ties in the back, the knots in the strings kind of hurt with all the bruises."

"Well, then we’ll get rid of this bastard," Kerri said, nodding. "Never to return. But what I think, Blair, is that once you’re finished with the bedpan, I’m going to let Jim give you a sponge bath while I whip you both up a bit of supper. And about the time that goes in the oven, I’ll pop back in, help Jim get you put to rights and settled, and give you your meds with supper. That way you can nod off while Jim and I are taking care of things outside the room. Sound like a plan?"

"We didn’t expect you to cook for us tonight," Jim protested.

"All part of the service," Kerry grinned. "And I’ll do the dishes after, too. Okay, Blair, honey, what I want you to do is cross your forearms across your chest, that’ll keep us from bumping your ribs when we turn you." Kerri spotted Blair’s body pillow in the corner and laid it along Blair’s left side. "Good job you have this; it’ll make things all kinds of easier." She showed Jim how to roll Blair to his side without assistance, with the body pillow in front of Blair for Blair to rest an arm and leg on. To Jim’s surprise, Blair was shifted to his side with hardly a wince, the body pillow cradling him comfortably.

"Real good," Kerri said, nodding. "Now unfasten the Depends on the right side. Good, now you can just pull it away. See? You’ve got the disposable pad under him, just in case there’s a mess, but he hasn’t done anything. Lord, sweetie, you’re a colorful character, aren’t you? I knew about your tailbone, but Linda didn’t tell me about all those bruises on your bum. This is going to make a bedpan a bit tricky. What the hell, tricky’s my middle name, Kerridwen Tricky McDermott, just ask Linda."

Blair shivered slightly, and Jim knew it must be hell for him to be laid so casually bare in front of a stranger.

"Well, first we’ll take care of those pesky knots," Kerri said briskly, untying the back of the hospital gown. "Okay. Let’s see. Jim, how many more pillows’ve you got?"

"How many do you want?" Jim asked simply. He had three more in Blair’s closet, two on his cot, and his bed pillows upstairs.

"Four’ll do if they’re firm," Kerri said speculatively, nodding when Jim fetched them out. She showed Jim how to arrange the pillows under to support Blair’s body when he was rolled back onto his back, leaving a gap under him for the bedpan so the bedpan didn’t press against his lower back or tailbone.

"Urinal first," Kerri told Jim, and Jim held the receptacle in place.

Blair grimaced.

"It always feels like I have to go," he said. "But I don’t think anything’s happening." He blushed. "It’s hard to go with, you know, an audience."

Kerri chuckled and walked into the bathroom, turning on the faucet. A moment later Blair sighed with relief and urinated. Jim tried not to look at the bloody fluid.

"You men," Kerri grinned, turning off the water. "So predictable. Okay, Blair, can you do anything else?"

"I don’t know," Blair said apologetically. "Sometimes it takes me a while on a bedpan."

"Don’t fret," Kerri said. She flipped on the radio, smiling at the New Age music. "Good music to take a dump to. Okay, take your time, Blair. I’m going to get the stuff ready for Jim to bathe you, and he can do your front while you’re waiting and I’m cooking. Maybe the bath will relax you."

"Nah, I know something better," Jim said. He moved down to Blair’s feet and began massaging them slowly. "This usually melts him into a puddle."

"Oh, man, that’s cheating," Blair sighed, the wrinkles in his forehead smoothing out. "You know me too well."

The foot massage worked, although the grimace of pain on Blair’s face told Jim just how painful the release was. Jim gave Blair his hand to clutch, and he held it tightly until he’d finished. Kerri popped back in to help Jim roll Blair back onto his side for cleanup; both he and Blair blushed crimson when Kerri mutely handed Jim a pair of disposable latex gloves and the baby wipes.

Jim took a deep breath, glad that he couldn’t see Blair’s face and sure that Blair was equally glad that he couldn’t see Jim. Jim pulled on the gloves, took the wipes and cleaned Blair tenderly but thoroughly; Blair’s bent-leg position helped, and his surprised murmur told Jim that he must not be hurting his Guide much.

"Good job, Jim," Kerri said approvingly. "Very good." She held out the bedpan for Jim to drop the wipes in, then handed him the tube of ointment. "This is the last of it."

Blair stiffened.

"Can we – uh – skip that?" he said, his voice faint.

"No, honey, we can’t," Kerri said, taking his hand again. "It’ll help you heal up faster and help prevent scarring. Trust me, it’ll make you feel better, make some of the hurt go away. He’s your fellow, you’re used to him touching you. You can trust him."

Blair shivered slightly, but didn’t contradict Kerri’s mistake; neither did Jim. Jim slowly uncapped the tube.

"Squeeze a good gob out on your finger and rub it on, just around the outside," Kerri told him. "When you’re doing this, it’s a good idea to talk to Blair all the time so he’ll remember it’s you back there, even if he’s half asleep and dopey with drugs. Go ahead, what are you waiting for?"

Jim took a deep breath and ever so slowly reached forward. Blair shivered again at the first cool touch of the ointment but made no protest. Jim gently rubbed the ointment over Blair’s opening. He could hear the rapid thunder of Blair’s heart, but ever so slowly he could feel Blair relaxing.

"Doing good, Jim," Kerri said softly. "Now squeeze out some more on your finger. Use plenty. This time I want you to keep talking to Blair, tell him to relax for you, and I want you to concentrate on pushing the ointment, not your finger, inside him, and your finger will go in after it. Go on, talk to him."

"Doing okay, Chief?" Jim said softly, rubbing Blair’s thigh gently with his ungloved hand.

"Yeah." Blair’s voice was faint.

"I know this is tough, baby," Jim said quietly. "I know this doesn’t feel good. But I’d give anything, do anything to make you feel better, to take even a little of the hurt away. Let me do that, baby. Let me take a little of the hurt away for you."

Blair took a deep, shuddering breath; Jim could see the back of his head move as he nodded, and he felt Blair relax consciously a little more.

"Nice and slow, baby," Jim murmured. "Just relax for me."

To his surprise, his finger slipped in almost easily – more a testimony to Blair’s trust, he knew, than anything else. He could feel the long tears inside Blair, the stitches in some of them. Almost panicking, he glanced at Kerri.

"It’s no different than putting antibacterial cream on a cut," Kerri said, her eyes locking with Jim’s. "Just gently smooth the ointment around inside. Keep talking to him. When you’re done, take your finger out."

"Doing fine, Chief," Jim murmured, working the ointment into the wounds. "Just stay relaxed. I’ll be as gentle as I can, okay? I’m trying not to hurt you."

He finished as quickly as he could and withdrew his finger.

"All done, Chief." He glanced at Kerry. "Should I wipe off the extra?"

"Uh-uh, leave it," she said. "Pitch the gloves. Now before you roll Blair back, we’ll put an extra towel under him, and then when you go to the bathroom to wash your hands, make up a basin of warm soapy water, and you can come back and bathe him while I cook."

Jim fought down a brief moment of panic as he washed his hands. So far he’d managed, but now he’d be washing Blair’s naked body with Blair looking right at him. He wasn’t sure he could face Blair now.

But he had to, after all. Right now, by his own choice, he was all Blair had.

He filled a basin with warm water, mixed with some of the liquid castile soap he’d bought, and grinned as he unwrapped the super-soft chamois. The only thing soft enough to wash Jim’s beloved truck – and now, the only thing soft enough to wash his beloved Guide.

Blair was gazing at him rather anxiously when Jim walked back into the bedroom.

"You know, this seems really strange," he mumbled, his hands tugging nervously at the hospital gown. "A month ago I’d have sold my soul for you to bathe me."

"And a month ago I’d have been too chickenshit to admit how much I wanted to do it," Jim said softly. "But now we’ve both got our wish – okay, it’s not how we imagined it. But we’ve still got each other, and hey, just think of it as a hot fantasy. Playing doctor."

Blair chuckled a little weakly, but he allowed Jim to pull the hospital gown away and toss it in a corner.

"We’ll pitch that," Jim said, grinning. "Wasn’t your color anyway."

"Oh, yeah?" Blair quipped. "What is my color, then?" He glanced down at his bruised body. "We’ve got a lot of choices here – there’s black, kind of a greenish brown, mauve – "

"I don’t know, I think you’d probably look best in Blair Sandburg flesh tones," Jim chuckled. He put the basin down on the nightstand and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Now let’s see what we can do about that dirty feeling you were talking about earlier."

He washed Blair’s face slowly, gently, careful of the bruises and the split lip. His nose had been set well; Jim didn’t think there would be any unsightly bump or jog. Blair purred contentedly at Jim’s gentleness, and even giggled slightly when Jim meticulously washed all the little whorls of Blair’s ear.

Jim was increasingly grateful for this opportunity. He’d never really had a look at Blair naked, although he could have if he’d wanted to; Blair wasn’t exactly shy, nor careful about making sure a towel was in place when he walked out of the bathroom. But Jim had learned Guy Rule No. 1 well before military school – Thou Shalt Not Look at Other Guys Below the Waist Beyond a Brief Glance to Ensure that Thou Art Bigger.

"Man, this does feel good," Blair admitted as Jim washed down his arms and hands. "Are you going to wash me every day?" he added hopefully.

Jim chuckled, inwardly rejoicing that Blair was so comfortable with Jim touching him. He’d been afraid that Blair couldn’t stand to be touched, especially by another man.

"Four times a day if you want," he said. "The instructions say that if you get up and out of bed on schedule, though, we can move you to a stool in the shower in a couple of days and I can get your hair."

"Well, that would be great," Blair admitted. "But I’ll miss the sponge baths, I bet."

"Nobody says it has to be necessary for me to do it," Jim said softly.

Blair fell silent when Jim washed his groin, and they were both relieved when Jim continued on down his legs.

"You know – " Blair hesitated. "That business with the ointment. You did that really well. None of the doctors and nurses, not even Linda, did it that well."

Jim grinned.

"You can thank the highly developed Sentinel sense of touch," he said. "Which, in turn, I can thank my Guide for his excellent teachings."

Blair looked at him without smiling.

"I wasn’t joking," he said quietly. "I . . . I like you taking care of me."

Jim stopped grinning and took Blair’s hand.

"I know," he said. "Consider that yet another of my many defense mechanisms, okay? Let me tell you something. I think I like taking care of you more than you like it."

Blair grimaced.

"This can’t be much fun," he said.

Jim smiled and resumed washing Blair’s toes.

"You’ve obviously never given anybody you loved a sponge bath," he said. "Seriously, though – I expected it to be, I don’t know, more bothersome, I guess. But actually I’m loving every minute of it. Apart from worrying about hurting you or frightening you, I mean." He stopped. "I think I need to roll you over on your side now to do your back, okay? I’m going to do it just the same as before, and then when I’m finished I’ll put a new Depends on you. I bet I can do it myself without calling Kerri in."

The rolling maneuver was accomplished successfully, and Blair murmured contentedly as Jim washed his back. Jim tried not to wince himself at the extensive bruising. Blair had been lucky to come away without fractured vertebrae. Even with the foam padding on the bed, lying on those bruises had to hurt.

"You know, when you’ve been hurt before, I always felt so helpless," Jim said softly. "There was never anything I could do. I knew that if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have been in any position to get hurt, and if I’d looked out for you better you’d be safe. And then when Alex drowned you – "

"Don’t think about that," Blair said, just as softly. "We talked about that. It was a little bit your fault, a little bit my fault, a little bit just bad luck, and a whole lot of things out of our control, okay?"

"Well . . . " Jim took a deep breath. "I like taking care of you now. I like to feel like I have something to do with you feeling better instead of you getting hurt."

Blair’s voice was rough when he spoke again.

"You do, Jim," he said. "You’ll never know how much. You always do make me feel better."

"Now that’s what I like to hear," Kerri chuckled from the doorway. "You about done there, Jim? Because dinner’s ready."

"Yeah, just finishing," Jim said hastily. He carefully put a new Depends on Blair and removed the damp towel he was laying on, helping Blair roll back onto his back. Kerri helped Jim work a t-shirt over Blair’s head without hurting his ribs too much. Kerri gave Blair his evening medications and disappeared, then returned with the bed tray Jim had bought, now holding three plates.

"Tonight’s specialty," she said. "Portobello mushroom polenta parmesan, and artichoke hearts in lemon cream sauce. Pardon me if I eat with you, it smelled too good and I’m a hog for my own cooking."

"Oh, wow, that smells great," Blair groaned. "Can I raise up the head of the bed a little, Jim?"

"If you’re comfortable," Jim said hesitantly. He handed Blair the remote. "Watch out, now. Nice and slow."

Blair raised the head of the bed a little, a little more, a little more. At last he stopped, biting his lip.

"Wow," he said tautly. "I didn’t realize I was so sore."

"Let’s see if I can help," Kerri said briskly. She peeled back the covers and worked a pillow under Blair’s legs, just above his knees. Blair sighed with relief.

"That does help," he said. "Thanks."

"No problem." She turned to Jim. "Something you might get him – they make U-shaped pillows for nursing mothers, but it’d make a great cushion to take the pressure off Blair’s bum and lower back. If you want me to come back, I’ll be happy to pick one up for you. Now eat up, you two."

Blair took a forkful of the polenta and his eyes lit up.

"Oh, man, this is, like, ambrosia," he moaned.

Jim chuckled.

"I bet Spaghetti-O’s would taste good after hospital food," he said, tasting. For a moment the food had no flavor at all; then, as he focused on it, the tastes nearly overwhelmed him. He had to fight not to spit out his mouthful, but then he got it back under control. "But this is great." He was surprised; he’d griped about Blair’s vegetarian dishes, missing the meat. But the mushrooms tasted astonishingly meaty, and the cheese and cornmeal were hearty and filling. The artichoke hearts were tender and sinfully creamy, and to Jim’s amazement he cleared his plate in record time, just as Blair held out his own plate, eyes pleading.

"Please, may I have a little more?" Blair asked in his best ‘Oliver Twist’ imitation.

"All you want, honey," Kerri laughed, accepting the empty plates.

After seconds, and then a couple of bowls of a creamy chocolate concoction Kerri called "Angelo’s Delight," Blair looked remarkably content even as the medication had him nodding off, and Jim himself felt tired and lethargic. He tucked the already-drowsing Blair in cozily and followed Kerri out, closing the door behind him.

"You look about done in," Kerri said sympathetically. "Come on, we’ll talk while I do the dishes, all right, and then you can go to bed that much sooner."

"If you wash, I’ll dry," Jim offered.

"Now, I’ve made up a booklet of recipes and menu suggestions for you," Kerri said as she prepared the dishwater. "Enough to take you through the whole week till your next doctor’s visit if you need to. Keep on Blair about the fluids and give him a few cups of hot herbal tea a day; it’ll help him move his bowels while he’s still bedbound.

"Now, I see his plan calls for him to sit up tomorrow and stand for a bit the next day. He’s not going to think he’s ready, and you’re not going to think he’s ready either, and it’s going to hurt like hell, and he’s going to resent you for pushing him. Do it anyway. As long as you’re careful of his ribs and his stitches and don’t let him fall, you can’t do him any actual physical harm, and the pain’s just something he’s going to have to work his way through sooner or later. Give his bruises another day to heal, then start giving him massages – from the way you rubbed his feet, I guess you don’t need any lessons there. I see Linda gave you a sheet of assisted exercises, and you should start those tomorrow or the next day at the latest. If he stiffens up, it’ll just be worse in the long run. He will quit hurting sooner if you get him moving."

Jim sighed.

"Yeah, I figured."

"The trick," Kerri said, "is to make sure he has rewards – bribes, if you like. You know him better than I do; you figure out what makes it worth it for him. He gets a reward for trying and an even bigger reward for succeeding. Those rewards are what get him through until he starts seeing progress."

Jim nodded.

"Thank you so much," he said, handing Kerri a check as she packed up her bags. "I’m glad you were able to come on such short notice. Um, would you have time to come over for maybe an hour or two every day for – well, let’s say the next week?"

"Gladly." Kerri pulled out a pocket organizer and checked her calendar. "How about eleven o’clock to one? That way I can do lunch, fix up a dinner you can just pop in the oven, and give you time off to run errands if you want."

"That would be wonderful," Jim said gratefully.

When Kerri was gone, Jim looked over his own calendar and to-do list. Although he had plenty of vacation time, Simon had offered to let him work from home doing Major Crimes’ reports and lookup work on the Internet. Jim was sure Blair wouldn’t mind loaning him his laptop for that purpose. That way Jim could also fulfill an active-duty assignment – guarding Blair. Simon agreed that there was not much likelihood that anyone might try to attack Blair, but in view of the viciousness of the original assault for no more provocation than a bad grade, he couldn’t discount the possibility that the entire hockey team might descend on the loft for vengeance.

There were, however, other arrangements to make. Jim called the police academy and talked to the class administrator, Shirley Dean, telling her about Blair’s assault and explaining that there was no real way of knowing when Blair would be able to come in and take his last tests. Dean was shocked and sympathetic and glad to work around Blair’s recovery, offering to let Simon bring Blair’s last tests over and administer them so that even if Blair couldn’t attend the formal graduation, he could receive his badge on time with the rest of his class and start studying for the detective’s exam.

"He’s worked damned hard," Shirley admitted. "I wasn’t sure about him at first, not after that circus with the press about academic fraud, of all things, and I probably wouldn’t have even admitted him if it weren’t for pressure from upstairs – and I didn’t like that either, or all the special conditions. But that kid has sweated blood to make the grade. He’s going to make a good cop." Her voice broke with mingled amusement and frustration. "And you know what? It seems to be impossible not to like him. He just sort of grows on you."

Jim chuckled.

"I know just what you mean," he said ruefully.

Simon had Rafe and H on Blair’s case, but none of them were in the office and Jim didn’t want to interrupt their investigation by calling their cell phones; anyway, Simon was supposed to come over the next day to bring Jim some work, and he could update them then. Jim gave Rhonda a progress report on Blair to pass on to the department, and also asked her to mention that Blair probably wasn’t ready for visitors just yet. He made another futile attempt to reach Naomi.

Making sure Blair was still soundly asleep, Jim took his cell phone and went out on the balcony for his last call – the University. After some runaround he managed to reach Dean Ritter. The dean had heard about the assault, of course, and whatever he thought of Blair personally or professionally – or the wholescale invasion of the campus by Blair’s outraged fan club of police wanting to help investigate – he was naturally appalled that such an attack had taken place on campus and by University students. Jim explained that Blair wouldn’t be able to come back anytime soon to pick up the materials he’d sorted out in storage – in fact, Jim doubted that Blair would ever want to set foot on campus again – and after some negotiation Jim got permission to come get it himself at his convenience. He had no more desire to return to Rainier than Blair probably did, but someone had to do it, and Jim deserved the job. Whatever Blair thought, Jim knew his own guilt. In the little over an hour Jim had been late that evening, four boys had had the time to drag Blair to the auto shop, rape him and beat him half to death. If Jim had been there on time, he’d have heard the beginning of the fracas. He’d have prevented it. No, no matter what Blair thought, it was his fault. And Jim was going to do whatever it took to make up for it. He didn’t deserve Blair’s love, but he was by God going to spend the rest of his life earning it.

By the time he finished making calls and arrangements, Jim was exhausted. He almost staggered back to the bedroom, where he found Blair stirring restlessly, making little frightened murmurs in his sleep. Jim lay down on the cot and took Blair’s hand. Immediately Blair calmed, sighing as he slid back into deep sleep, taking Jim with him.